Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona highlights

Episode 249

January 29, 2019

Daytona holds something new every time

I have now covered the  Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona four consecutive years and each has provided something different or an interesting twist on an old story. The place drips with history and race drama.

The first year (2016) was the excitement of seeing an actual race at the track followed the next year (2017) when my brother Bill had to push me all around the track in a wheelchair because of my back injury from falling off my shed roof.

That was the year when Ricky Taylor in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi, moved the Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi number 5 driven by Filipe Albuquerque out-of-the-way and into the lead with six minutes left in the race. Taylor went on to win the race by .671 seconds over the charging #5 race car.

The 2018 edition featured the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi revenging their loss in 2017 by racing to victory setting a new record which had stood for 36 years driving 2,876 miles and 808 laps The Chip Ganassi Ford GT team finished one-two giving Chip his 200th race victory. Note that the #54 LMP2 CORE Autosports team owned by Jon Bennett finished third on the same lap as the winner.

I will remember this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona for the cold temperatures and strong winds on Saturday followed by the rain and cold Sunday. At times the rain fell at 1 -1 1/2 inches per hour. It was also the year I developed a story featuring the #54 CORE Autosports team with its Maine connection.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits; more in a future episode…

In addition to covering the race, my photographer/helper/brother and I spent serious time with one of the legends of drag racing, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits at his museum in Ocala, Florida. That visit will have an episode of its own since we have over two hours of personal interview time and photos to share as well as some information “Big Daddy” has not shared with others in all of his interviews (well that is what he said)

A teaser photo for all you Don Garlits fans to stay tuned to a future episode featuring one of drag racing’s most famous and most written about legends. Garlits poses with us in his workshop where he spends nearly every day working on a host of projects. To the left is one of those projects, the electric dragster. Entering the shop on right is Garlits’ son Rodney who is “jacked” and one of the nicest men I have met in motorsports. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Rolex race highlights in photos

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona overall winners Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V-R drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor, unknown, Fernando Alonso, owner Wayne Taylor, and Renger van de Zande. (HTF Motorsports photo)

“I think it was an interesting race with the conditions changing, very tough, but I think, like everyone else says, everyone did their job,” said Jordan Taylor, who scored his 21st career victory. “All four drivers led in their own right and drove to the lead, different parts of the race, and it was all about survival.”

“You saw a lot of guys taking a lot of risk early in the race, but we waited with the game plan of running our own race and not getting caught up in anyone else’s battles. I think it was the right game plan. We stayed out of trouble, no car damage, no one went off the track. That’s the way you win these 24 hour races, and we kind of came into the grid thinking almost every single car can win the race, and you see guys making little mistakes here and there, and this team has now done six out of seven years finishing on the podium without issues. I think it’s a huge testament to Wayne Taylor Racing.”

Fernando Alonso taking a selfie in Gatorade Victory Lane after winning the rain shortened Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Alonso was in the car at the end of the race. (HTF Motorsports photo)

“I’m very, very proud of the job that we achieved today, but it was not a one day job, it was a one month job,” F1 driver Fernando Alonso said. “For me, in December we started preparing for the race and receiving all the documents, how the Cadillac works and how Wayne Taylor Racing works, some procedures that maybe are different compared with other teams.”

“We tried to have a quick integration, Kamui (Kobayashi)  and myself, trying to learn as much as we could from the team in the Roar Before the 24 test days and then, on the race itself, it was very, very difficult. Conditions were changing all the time.”

The Ford GT # 67 came back from 5 laps down to lead the race. At 12:34 Richard Westbrook had to bring the car to the pits for fuel. Four minutes later the race was red flagged moving the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW into the lead and win. Photo shows the #67 exiting the Bus Stop chicane and entering the high banks in turn three. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona GTLM class Rahal Letterman, Lanigan BMW team l to r Connor DePhillippi, Phillipp Eng, Augusto Farfus, and Connor Herta in Gatorade Victory Lane. (RLL Racing photo)

The #55 Mazda RT24-P sister car to the race leading #77 Mazda leads the Action Express #31 and #5 through the International Horseshoe Bend early in the race. Both Mazda Team Joest cars had bad hour six incidents. The #55 developed a fuel leak and #77 caught fire. The #77 had set a new track record and qualified on the pole. (HTF Motorsports photo)

John Doonan, Director Mazda Motorsports stated, “While it is disappointing that we didn’t see the checkered flag, our Mazda Team Joest crew and drivers can leave with their heads held high that they had put together an effort that ran at the front and was a contender for the victory at Daytona.”

“Our Mazda employees, partners, owners and fans deserve to enjoy success, and our approach was to race from the front and push ourselves and the competition as hard as we could. We’ll learn everything we can, put a plan into place to address the issues we had here and go for it again at Sebring. Racers are optimistic, and we are already looking ahead to Sebring to show what we can do.”

“It’s a very tough result”, said Tristan Nunez co-driver of the #77 which lasted only 220 laps and placed 46 of 47 entries, “because we had a winning car – both Mazda RT24-Ps could have been a factor at the end of the race. Our car led from the start, and the guys gave us great pit stops and a car that could run at the front. It worked really well throughout the stint and I was really excited to get back in for my next stints. We’re so close to getting that first win, and even though we’re disappointed I can’t wait for Sebring.”

CORE Autosports drivers practice driver changes in their garage prior to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The team prides itself with the role of underdog. The top teams had dozens of support personnel from the factory as well as crew members. I counted two Nissan Nismo reps at the event. (HTF Motorsports photo)

CORE Autosports engineer Jeff Braun on right and crew chief Ian Jones in discussion with Hewland Transmissions engineer Chris Bartlett prior to the start of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. (HTF Motorsports photo)

CORE Autosports Nissan Ligier DPi speeds out of the Bus Stop chicane with Owner/Driver Jon Bennett at the controls. (HTF Motorsports photo)

“I think it’s amazing how far we’ve come in roughly two months”, remarked Jon Bennett. “My hat’s off to the whole CORE team for all their hard work. Not just hard work, but smart and effective work to get us competitive in such a short time frame.”

“We had a small sensor problem mid-race and I think that was all that separated us from being at the front in the end. Fourth is a great accomplishment for our first race with the Nissan and I want to thank my teammates and everyone on the crew for doing such a great job.”

“I’m here to race and compete, but at some point you have to be practical. I’m afraid if we’d gone much farther someone would have been hurt and that’s not what we’re here to do. I’m happy we’re all going home safe, we’re all in one piece, we’ll regroup, add from our experience here and be super competitive at Sebring.”

Driver Loic Duval added, “We all come here to win and to get the watch, so for sure there is some frustration, but in the end, if you look back at the details, in the dry we had very good pace and in normal wet conditions we were pretty good, but when there was a lot of rain we were not able to keep up with the Cadillacs. Even if we didn’t have the mechanical problem we had, I think P4 would have been the best we could do.”

“The race was very difficult.” chimed in driver Romain Dumas. “Everything went according to plan and as we got close to the middle of the race, we were running in the top three. Unfortunately, when I was driving, we had a gearbox sensor issue. It wasn’t possible to up shift without using the clutch, so without this I lost a lot of time. We repaired it but lost some laps.

“This is a great result for us,” Colin Braun driver of the #54 for the full season. “We got the car less than two months ago. I’m really proud of these guys to come out in our first race and be on the backfoot a little bit and show that we’re still contenders. It was a good testament to what we can look forward to the rest of the year.”

“I have to say that Jon did an amazing job all through the race. After his first stint in the race I think he only lost 20 seconds to the leader, so I’m glad he’s comfortable and having fun in the car. It makes me pumped for the rest of the year.”

Other highlights

Traditional dinner at Daytona Brickyard Restaurant with Jason Griffeth center, Director of Grounds for Daytona International Speedway. A photo of the tri-oval logo and turfgrass design will be in a future episode. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Jack Roush with the Ford GT in flashback colors when he raced IMSA. Ford Performance photo

The old Brumos Porsche #59 and the #911 entry for this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in flashback colors. (photo courtesy Rolex)

Close up view of the GTLM third place Porsche Motorsports #912 hood stripes which commemorate the #59 Brumos Porsche. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Alex Zanardi, on the pre-race grid drove the #24 RLL BMW with special hand controls. The steering wheel gave the team a problem during the race putting them multiple laps down finishing 9th in the GTLM class. Zanardi’s press conference featured tears of joy and frustration as he looked back on the 2019 version of the endurance race. (photo courtesy Rolex)

I was honored to meet with my friend Grant Weaver, shop manager at Ganassi Racing/Ford Racing Indianapolis. (HTF Motorsports photo)

View of the display of classic race cars at the UNOH Fanzone area of Daytona International Speedway. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Michael Johnson with his Grandpa Henry Johnson getting ready for the 4 hour BMW Endurance Challenge race Friday afternoon. Johnson started the race from the pole position. Read more about his story at his website which tells you why he is confined to a wheelchair. Johnson was running in second place when he and another car banged together hard in the Bus Stop area of the backstretch. (HTF Motorsports photo)

After being disqualified from the Roar Before the 24 just a couple of weeks ago for being 220 pounds underweight, the L.A. Honda World Racing team returned with their three now legal Honda Civic TCR. The #37 driven by Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock won the race. The #73 pictured here was second followed by the #23 Fast MD Racing Audi RS3 LMS driven by Nick Galante, James Vance, and Jared Salinsky. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine